Fighting for legal and social recognition outside the gendered societal structure
This is the day I had been dreading for some time. Today is ‘Census Day’ (sounds almost like a national day of celebration) and the day I came to complete the Census 2011 questionnaire and disclose very personal information about our ‘household’ (ie. my partner and myself) to the state.
I had been consigned to the periphery of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) lengthy consultation process for Census 2011 questionnaire content. Excluded from becoming involved in the think-tank process, I responded as a concerned member of the public and consulted on the ‘public’ level. I used this very limited opportunity to try and engage in order to educate the decision makers at the ONS. I managed to find a sympathetic policy adviser at mid-ranking level but it soon became clear the ONS would ignore my suggestion that the questionnaire should offer a third ‘non gender-specific’ option under field for ‘sex/gender’ (or just ‘sex’ as it turned out, with the omission of ‘intersex’).
In 2008, getting towards the end of consultation process and still not too late for intervention, I made contact with Glen Watson, the ONS Census Director and communicated a direct request to meet with him and present in more detail the issue of socially invisible human identity outside the gendered societal structure. I received a personal but standard response and my request for a meeting was declined. Mr Watson did subsequently agree to meet with Simon Hughes MP, my parliamentary representative who was aware of my campaign. This meeting took place very late in the consultation process and there was no satisfactory outcome, as the ONS had already made the decision to not make provision for inclusion of the non-gendered population in Census 2011 or indeed would not make provision to enable any human being whose core identity does not conform to ‘M’ or ‘F’ to register their identity correctly on the questionnaire form.
My website entry of 29 October 2008 details the rather pathetic excuses given when the ONS tried to reason their ‘painstaking’ decision and would be laughable were it not for the fact that the issue of the fundamental human right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law was being clearly and blatantly breached (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 6) and I am not laughing. This link will take you back to the dark days when the previous governing administration were determined to keep the issue of human identity outside the gendered societal structure under the radar and condemn non-gendered human beings to a socially invisible and marginalized existence (expressed acutely through their intention to criminalise us if we refused to apply for an ID card that carried an inappropriate gendered reference) http://elancane.livejournal.com/1277.html.
Anyway, back to the present and life is looking so much better. If even some of the measures I have suggested and been pushing are taken up under the forthcoming Government Action Plan for TransEquality, there will be fundamental changes – and I will address these in more detail in the future because this entry concerns Census 2011.
My website entry on 9 March 2011 was the text of an email recently sent directly to Jil Matheson, the high ranking ONS Permanent Secretary (who wrote a signed personal statement on the Census 2011 questionnaire front cover) and the email was also copied directly to Glen Watson.
Unsurprisingly I have not had a response to my email communication from anyone at ONS although I did receive messages of support from my email distribution list who were circulated with a copied version of the text from the original. I received messages from other non-gendered people and from bi-gendered people who were unsure what to do and how to respond to this inappropriate and offensive question.
I was encouraged that others had already written (or were intending to write) to ONS to voice their concern at being unable to answer this question because of lack of ONS provision. I found an online blog where there was support for the issue that included some comments from a few gendered people who stated an intention to ignore this question “in solidarity”!
So, when it came down to my completing the questionnaire, what more could I do?
It will be no surprise to anyone who follows my work that I crossed through both gendered boxes with a thick black line when I got to the inappropriate, offensive and unanswerable question, and then diagonally crossed through the whole section in both directions. That should hopefully screw any machine reading capability and reduce risk of my being misappropriated a gendered role by the system.
I wrote ‘NON-GENDERED’ prominently above the section and asterisked to a statement I had written at the head of the page that the question is inappropriate and offensive.
Further down the page was a question concerning whether I was currently in a relationship and I had to respond that I had never married and never in a Civil Partnership (despite the fact my partner and I have been together for nearly 20 years – our 20th ‘Anniversary’ is in two weeks time).
For this I wrote (scrawled) in the margin and over the box for that section (actually over much of the page) an explanation of the reason why I had never been married/CP’d. That the gendered societal structure did not recognise my identity and I was therefore unable to legally register my partnership. Just in case ONS could not comprehend what I meant by ‘identity’, I circulated the word ‘IDENTITY’ and circulated ‘NON-GENDERED’ further up the page and connected them in thick black pen.
The page looked a bit of a bloody mess, but they did ask the question and did not allow me to provide a truthful answer and therefore a bit of explanation had been necessary. But I care about presentation and it really did need to be tidied up.
So I then stapled a printed copy of the text used for my website posting (the correspondence to Jil Matheson) to the opposite page through to questionnaire front cover and wrote a further piece to provide basic education to the uninitiated on the subject of human identity outside the gendered societal structure and stapled that to cover the page containing the inappropriate question through to the back of the form. The questionnaire now cannot be opened without tearing unless the receiver opens the form to find a double paged spread of type written information about the need to recognise and make provision for a socially marginalized and invisible section within the population that ONS had previously chosen to ignore.
As the warning on the questionnaire front cover states that non return of the census or deliberate false information could result in prosecution, I feel safe in the knowledge it is not a crime to provide the correct information even when the ONS have determinedly made it so damned difficult!
I hope those public servants at ONS will find some benefit from the accessible education in the promotion and recognition of fundamental human rights that I have freely and willingly provided.
The denial of existence is the worst act of discrimination by the gendered majority against the non-gendered.